As a writer I’ve been asked a time or two to state the theme of my stories. Winnowing down the nut of a story is most times easier to do once you’ve completed the little darling. Still, each time I’m asked this I scratch my head and try to wrap my mind around story theme. Instead, I do much better when asked which questions about life, the universe and everything I attempted to answer in my 400, 500, 600 plus pages of manuscript.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there are striking similarities to my works in this department. Frequently, the questions run something like this:
Is control an illusion? Can one find freedom in learning to give up control or acknowledge the limits to it? In the struggle to control everything in our lives do we lose something? In trying to keep control are we masking our true selves from the world?
Okay, you get the commonality? Duh! Control. My books ask other questions as well, but each story addresses something about this issue in its own manner. So, I’ll admit it. The subject fascinates me. Every time I read the beginning of the serenity prayer (attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr, though adapted a bit in language in the twelve step version below) the words resonate with me.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.
My personal opinion is that our stories, especially as new writers, reflect the most important issues we struggle with in our own lives. This is not to say our stories are autobiographical. In no life of mine (past or present) have I ever been the leader of the entire supernatural world and the most powerful magical being on the planet. (See Ruling Eden blurb on my Current Works page)
Still, since I’m of the opinion, expressed in an earlier blog, that we are all reflecting our personal truths about the world in our fiction writing, it makes sense that the questions we struggle with most prominently in our personal lives make it onto the paper.
These questions evolve as we mature, both personally and as writers. I don’t expect to be writing about these same quandries in every story I pen from now to doomsday. And no one story asks a sole question to begin with. However, being honest with myself about my motivations for writing is important to me. Acknowledging this pattern also gives me permission to expand the questions I ask in my work. It provides me food for thought about the possibilities for my writing and so pushes me in new directions.
I like thinking about my life as a series of unanswered questions. And isn’t it the road we take to explore the answers (most of which we never actually reach) that defines who we are in the end?
I recently read a great article on story themes by Holly Lisle. She explores some of the ideas I’ve played around with in my thoughts and her website is a wealth of information for any writer.
So what are the themes or story questions you ask when you weave your characters and plot and GMC together to create writing magic? Let me know.